‘Pioneer’, ‘trailblazer’, ‘dynamic’, ‘tenacious’, ‘a beautiful friend and mentor’…..these are just some of the words used to describe journalist, editor and publisher Barbara Campbell since the news of her passing was announced on social media on the evening of December 29.
Since the announcement of the tragic news, friends, former colleagues and others who knew her have flocked to pay tribute to a woman who played such an important role in shining a positive media spotlight on stories affecting the black community during a time when they were virtually ignored by the mainstream media.
Campbell has also been praised for work in mentoring and supporting many young journalists who have gone on to successful careers in the media.
After joining The Voice in 1994 and becoming editor of the publication’s sister paper, The Weekly Journal (later called The Journal) Campbell achieved prominence when she went on to launch the bi monthly magazine Live Listings in 1999, described as a multicultural version of Time Out through her company Barbwire Enterprises.
In 2003 she achieved another publishing first with the launch of Britain’s first Black History Month magazine, Black Heritage Today.
Campbell also developed International Black Women’s Month Magazine, an official guide which helped to consolidate the month in the UK.
‘SHE WAS PASSIONATE ABOUT HER WORK AND THE BLACK COMMUNITY‘
Former colleague Denise Dixon Roberts who worked with her on Black Out magazine, which was launched before Live Listings, spoke of the qualities that made Campbell a successful editor, publisher and passionate campaigner for the black community.
She told The Voice: “She played a significant role in our industry and was passionate about her work and the black community, of course, helping to provide opportunities for those coming behind her. She was certainly significant in my career. I worked with her on Black Out. Later I also wrote content for Black Heritage Today. I remember going to editorial meetings at Barbara’s flat in south London where she wore the hats of the editor, publisher and advertising executive.”
Roberts continues: “She was a straight-talking yet bubbly person. I have this memory of Barbara writing to one of the mainstream international women’s magazines who were looking for an editor. She wrote a bold letter challenging them to break protocol and by hiring their first black editor, but of course they didn’t reply. Barbara wanted to see change. Sad to see that she is no longer with us.”
Journalist and lecturer Vivienne Francis agrees. Francis worked with Campbell during her time as a reporter and editor on The Weekly Journal, The Voice’s sister paper.
‘IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO FORGET THE WARMTH OF HER SMILE’
Francis recalls: “I first met Barbara when we both worked as young, fresh-faced news reporters at the Weekly Journal in the mid 1990s. Although we haven’t been in touch for many years, it’s impossible to forget the warmth that her smile and strong character brought to The Voice’s offices.
“As journalists, we sought to elevate the issues, concerns and achievements of Britain’s black communities with impartiality and integrity. Barbara’s work achieved this. She had a deep understanding of the communities that she reported on and the issues that needed to be scrutinized. Her personality and reputation also ensured that she always had good access to the voices that needed to be heard. All of this translated into stories that brought originality and authenticity to The Journal.”
Another writer whose life and work was strongly influenced by Campbell is Monika Ribeiro.
She says: “Barbara Campbell trained me as a journalist while I was freelancing for Black Heritage Today and International Women’s Month magazines. She taught me how to write feature articles, conduct journalistic interviews, research and more. She welcomed me into her home and heart as well.
“I remember proudly presenting my first feature to her. It was embellished – quite “flowery”. She cut so much out. I got upset thinking she took my soul out of the piece. I then showed it to my friend who had read the original. She didn’t hesitate to tell me that Barbara’s pen made it better. So, I decided to stop mourning my style and started paying attention.
‘HER HEART BLED FOR THE BLACK COMMUNITY’
“Barbara knew exactly what she wanted to say and how she wanted to say it. Her heart bled for the black community and for black stories to be told the RIGHT WAY. I could see a flame in her eyes when she spoke about how much the community needed positive role models and narratives. That passion drove her and made her fight tirelessly against financial, physical and all other odds. It was tough on her, especially towards the end. Sometimes, I think she sacrificed her life for it.”
Speaking about the lasting impact that Campbell had on her life, Ribeiro says:
“These few words are not enough to summarise the impact she made on me as a writer. When I decided not to pursue journalism, she encouraged my poetry and gave me a poet’s corner in Black Heritage Today. In one of her recommendations, she said ‘…Anytime, she is performing l hope to be there – cheering from the front!’ Sadly, she never made it to my shows, but I still hear her voice in my head reminding me to use the word ‘reportedly’ just in case… I edit my stories the way she taught me. Her heart and skills are part of my writing. She was an excellent journalist, editor, boss lady, teacher and friend…
“My heart broke when she got ill, and each time I visited her after that. She should still be here, but I thank God for the gift of knowing her. I’m also grateful for the opportunity to have been there in the last years and days of her life. Babs, thank you! You are cheering me and many others on even after you’re gone. You left so many beautiful footprints in the sand. We know you were here. R.I.P. Lady B.”
‘BABS TAUGHT ME HOW TO CANVAS A BLANK PAGE’
Another person whose life and work Campbell had a huge influence on is Winsome Duncan aka Lyrical.
She recalls: “Babs taught me how to canvas a blank page. She guided me on how to caress the pen. I unearthed the gift God gave me to tell a fragrant story as she lovingly watched on, whilst helping me shape and chizzle my words out of the fire into print.
“I am a solid writer because she poured into me her wealth of industry knowledge. We worked quite closely together and it was exciting times in her office with the radio switched on and our usual sing-a-long. She was constantly vibrant and had a fierce passion for the black community, arts and culture.
“I was at Barbara’s bedside in the last couple of days of her life and she still had a fighting, winning spirit. We walked the journey together as she became unwell and would confide in me her innermost thoughts. We had some beautiful moments together.
“Ms Campbell was my friend, a mentor and a board member for my social enterprise MPLOYME. I learned the value of unconditional friendship and grace in her presence. When you have someone rooting for you in all your endeavours, like a buried seed, you must push up through the soil, sprout your wings and fly.
“Barbara Campbell was that sister in the background always championing you on to win and I will always love her for that. I am honoured to spend time with this beautiful soul through the hill and gully. Rest in peace Babs, see you when I get there. My love always.”
Other tributes have highlighted Campbell’s resilience as the publisher behind Live Listings and Black Heritage Today magazines.
The publications were launched at a time when the financial hurdles faced by black publishers and media businesses were particularly steep.
And there are many who praised Campbell’s willingness to keep moving forward despite not getting the financial backing or recognition they felt she deserved.
‘SHE WAS A DYNAMIC ENGAGING PERSON….BUT SHE ALSO TOOK NO PRISONERS’
Patrick Vernon OBE, founder of 100 Great Black Britons site worked with Campbell and witnessed the challenges that black publishers faced in the 1990s and 2000s.
“She was a dynamic, feisty, engaging person with a wicked sense of humour and loved her reggae and lovers rock” he recalls. “But at the same time, she took no prisoners. It is no coincidence that she chose the name ‘Barbwire’ as the name of her company. It was not just a play on words. It reflected her steely will, tenacity, determination to fight for her business as she tried to provide a service to the community and sustain her family.
“Despite all the opportunities around advertising and sponsorship as black history was becoming more fashionable and acceptable, she had to work 10 times as hard as a woman in a male-dominated world.
“She often would be working around the clock in her flat in Battersea editing, pitching for business and raising her two young children Leanna and Layton. It was always struggle when it came to publication deadlines in meeting the costs of printing her magazines. However, she still managed to get her magazines out no matter what.”
‘BARBARA’S LEGACY NEEDS FURTHER CELEBRATION’
Vernon continues: “In many ways the impact of a running a small business with very little support has an impact on your physical and mental wellbeing. Although she enjoyed going out, church, singing and being with her children and children the years of stress and pressure took its toll in the end.
“Barbara’s legacy to the Black British publishing needs further documentation and celebration. She was a modern version of Claudia Jones in using her publication to educate, inform and inspire the community.”
Paying tribute to her tenacity as a publisher radio presenter and Voice columnist Dotun Adebayo said: “My abiding memory of Barbara Campbell is that you could never keep this good woman down. She got knocked down so many times in her efforts to “be” somebody but she bounced right back with her cup always half full, if not brimming over with love, ideas and enthusiasm.
‘She didn’t need the establishment’s approval. She was a self-made publishing mogul.’
“Of course she was somebody. She didn’t need the establishment’s approval or acknowledgment. She was a self-made publishing mogul who presided over a magazine empire that she invested her energy and determination into and no small amount of personal wealth. Every time I saw her she was on another entrepreneurial publishing venture, the details of which she laid out for me with that illuminating half-smile that seemed to say, ‘You t’ink me did done? Me jus’ ah come man, me jus’ a come.’
We are all the poorer for the loss of this amazing woman.”
Entrepreneur and community activist Dr Jak Buela said: “The quality of her magazines were unparalleled, covering articles and featuring many people who owe her a debt of gratitude for providing a spotlight on their work – including me. Despite being a pioneer or because of it, she eventually found that others with more resources than her entering the field. This obviously took its toll.
‘SHE WAS A PIONEER, A TRAILBLAZER WHO WORKED TIRELESSLY FOR THE COMMUNITY’
“A remarkable pioneer of UK magazine publishing – the likes of which we are unlikely to see again. RIEP my dear sister Barbara, those of us who knew you, know exactly how much of a trailblazer you were.”
Speaking about how Campbell dealt with the challenges of the publishing industry journalist and broadcaster Henry Bonsu said: “I have nothing but admiration for Barbara and what she achieved. After editing he Journal she could have just become another jobbing freelance but she didn’t. She struck out on her own, rode the challenges that have sunk other media companies in our community and created a platform that took Black History Month to a new level.
‘HER PLACE IN BLACK BRITISH MEDIA HISTORY IS ASSURED’
“And somehow she did it with a broad smile – at least whenever I saw her – even though she must have been dealing with all kinds of advertising and funding crises. Barbara has gone too soon but her place in the annals of black British media history is assured.”
Keysha Davis, a journalist who worked with Campbell on Live Listings and Black Heritage Today added: “Publishing is a notoriously male dominated industry, but undeterred, Barbara would continually forge ahead self-publishing magazines and periodicals with often limited resources producing stellar results.
“She was a pioneer, trailblazer and renaissance woman who worked tirelessly to support and celebrate the Black British community she cared so greatly for. I am so thankful for the help and guidance she granted me. May her soul rest in perfect peace.”
Barbara Campbell June 30 1958 – December 27 2019